DGA Awards 2018: Matthew Heineman (‘City of Ghosts’) will beat documentary legends Ken Burns & Errol Morris despite Oscars snub

Documentarian Matthew Heineman is the front-runner to win his second Directors Guild Award in three years thanks to his tense film “City of Ghosts.”  That’s according to the combined predictions of more than 1,200 users who have entered their picks at Gold Derby in advance of the DGA ceremony on Saturday night, February 3. But for Heineman to win again he’ll have to get past a few legendary filmmakers: Steve James (“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”), Errol Morris (“Wormwood”) and Ken Burns (“The Vietnam War”).

Heineman previously won Best Documentary Director for “Cartel Land” (2015), in which he explored the tension between drug cartels, Mexican groups fighting back against cartel violence and border patrol agents monitoring the crossing between Mexico and the United States. Heineman’s latest film is also about a group resisting violence in their homeland: “City of Ghosts” profiles the Syrian citizen journalists who make up the group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. The group was formed to draw attention to the violence being committed against Syrians by the ISIS regime.

“City of Ghosts” was snubbed for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars despite making the long list of contenders before the final nominations were announced. Nevertheless it’s the favorite at the DGA Awards with leading odds of 4/7.  That includes support from 8 out of 12 Expert journalists we’ve polled from top media outlets: Thelma Adams (Gold Derby), Erik Davis (Fandango), Joyce Eng (Gold Derby), Tariq Khan (Fox News), Tom O’Neil (Gold Derby), Anne Thompson (IndieWire), Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) and Susan Wloszczyna (RogerEbert.com).

The film is also backed by four out of seven Editors who cover awards year-round for Gold Derby: Eng, O’Neil, Paul Sheehan and myself. Also betting on “Ghosts” are 16 of our Top 24 Users who got the highest scores predicting last year’s DGA winners, and 17 of our All-Star Top 24 who got the highest scores when you combine the last two years’ DGA predictions.

But “The Vietnam War” by Burns and Lynn Novick is close behind with 9/2 odds. Two of our Experts think it will win: Edward Douglas and Pete Hammond (Deadline). So do our Editor Rob Licuria, five of our Top 24 and five All-Stars. Burns is one of the best known documentary filmmakers in America, though he’s more popular with the TV academy than he has been with the Directors Guild. He has won five Primetime Emmys, but this is only his second DGA nom, and he has yet to win. This is also Novick’s second DGA nom, having previously competed in this category with Burns for “The War” (2007).

We should also watch out for “Icarus,” which ranks third with 11/1 odds. The film has timely subject matter: the Russian doping program to cheat the Olympics. And though this is the first documentary for director Bryan Fogel, he’s one of only two nominees in this category who also made the cut at the Oscars. So he gets support from two of our Editors, Chris Beachum and Marcus James Dixon, as well as one of our Top 24 and one All-Star.

We mustn’t count out “Wormwood” either. Director Errol Morris is nominated with Caroline Baron, Kamen Velkovsky and Keith Marlin, and like Burns he too is looking for his first DGA Award despite a celebrated career that includes nonfiction classics like “The Thin Blue Line” (1988), “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control” (1997) and an Oscar win for “The Fog of War” (2003). Now “Wormwood” ranks fourth in our predictions with 12/1 odds. Our Experts Grae Drake (Rotten Tomatoes) and Jack Mathews (Gold Derby) expect it to pull off an upset, as does one of our Top 24.

Perhaps surprisingly, none of our Experts, Editors or top users are predicting Steve James for “Abacus.” He’s the only nominee in this category besides Heineman who has won a DGA Award before (for his classic 1994 doc “Hoop Dreams”), and “Abacus” is the only nominee besides “Icarus” that is also up for an Oscar. He trails with 66/1 odds, but we may be in for a surprise on Saturday night when awards are handed out.

Be sure to make your DGA predictions so that Hollywood studio executives and top name filmmakers can see how their movies are faring in our odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on February 3. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 DGA Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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